Tue, Jan 27, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Aid workers find a new life in the Marshall Islands

DIPLOMATIC SERVICE Taiwan's aid workers on the islands say their work is daunting, but feel they are making a difference to the lives of ordinary people

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

A group of Kiribati children pose with a sea cucumber they caught at the beach. Kiribati children are familiar with the ocean and its wealth of creatures.

PHOTO: MELODY CHEN, TAIPEI TIMES

The unpolluted, turquoise ocean surrounding the Marshall Islands will be what Li Shr-jie (黎世傑), who joined the alternative diplomatic-service program two years ago, misses most when he is due to leave the Pacific island nation in the middle of March.

Li, a graduate from National Taiwan University's Department of Horticulture, chose to enroll the program, a substitute for compulsory military service, because he wanted to go to Latin American countries.

When Li was informed he would be dispatched to the Marshall Islands, one of Taiwan's five allies in the Pacific, his parents were worried he could not cope with life in such a remote country.

"When I first came here, I had fever several times. I felt particularly lonely and bored at night," said the 26-year-old serviceman.

The alternative diplomatic-service program had proved daunting to some who signed up for it.

"When the countries we were to be sent were announced, six of the 41 boys volunteering to join it withdrew," Li said.

The government's International Cooperation and Development Fund, which coordinates the program, usually deploys servicemen to Taiwan's 27 diplomatic allies to assist local workers.

Since Li arrived on the Marshall Islands in November 2002, he has been working with Taiwan's Technical Mission in the country.

Li's daily routine includes supervising workers in the field in the mission's compound, where a five-person agricultural team, including Li, grows various kinds of fruits and vegetables and raises pigs.

Li also helps with the mission's paperwork. In his leisure time, he often goes fishing, plays basketball and visits downtown Majuro, the Marshall Islands' capital.

"I also keep two dogs," he said.

Having picked up some simple words in the local tongue, Li said he would miss his friends in the Marshall Islands when his term finishes in March.

"They love to make friends," Li said of local residents.

The technical mission arrived in August 1999 after Taiwan established diplomatic ties with the Marshall Islands in November 1998.

The Marshall Islands government allotted about three hectares of land for the technical mission.

The mission has developed roughly one hectare to grow crops and build pigsties, according to the leader of the mission, Cheng Ming-ching (鄭明欽).

An agricultural expert from Hualien, Cheng had never joined a foreign mission before going to the Marshall Islands.

"Though the soil and climate in this country are different from that of Taiwan, I don't find it difficult to get used to life here," said Cheng, whose family has moved with him to the Marshall Islands.

People in the Marshall Islands had virtually no agricultural development before the arrival of Taiwan's technical mission.

"This country has very few natural resources and government budgets for agriculture are limited," Cheng said.

Through the mission's help, 50 households in the country have turned to farming and found the results satisfying, according to Cheng.

"Local farmers find their lives improved. They get the money to furnish their houses and are able to purchase refrigerators and television sets," Cheng said.

The mission developed agriculture on the Marshall Islands from nothing, Cheng said.

The situation of starting from scratch is now faced by Michael Lu (呂瑞源), leader of Taiwan's Technical Mission to Kiribati, Taiwan's newest ally.

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